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U.S. Supreme Court rules on same-sex adoption case

Same-sex couples have been legally able to marry in Florida since January 2015, which was five months before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that all state laws banning gay marriage were unconstitutional. Many hoped that this decision would finally put an end to the legislative and judicial bickering on this subject, but a number of child custody and adoption cases involving same-sex couples have demonstrated that the law in this area is far from settled.

Once again, the nation's highest court has been called upon to clear up a thicket of state laws and regulations. The justices ruled unanimously on March 7 that the Alabama Supreme Court was wrong to declare that adoptions involving same-sex couples were illegal. The case involved two women who found themselves embroiled in a legal dispute when their relationship ended after 16 years. The women have three children, and the biological mother initially offered no objections when her partner sought to adopt the boy and two girls.

The couple were living in Georgia when the adoptions were finalized, but their legal battle did not begin until after they had moved to the neighboring state of Alabama. The courts in Alabama initially recognized the Georgia adoption as legal and ordered joint custody, but the state's highest court subsequently reversed this decision. The U.S. Supreme Court elected not to hear oral arguments before setting the Alabama Supreme Court decision aside.

Experienced family law attorneys will likely welcome any measures that aim to make divorce, custody and adoption laws fairer and more transparent, but they may also expect challenges to such measures to continue for many years. Adoption often offers the only practical path to parenthood for same-sex couples, and attorneys with experience in this area may assist those who are thinking of adopting by explaining how the process works.

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